I’ll be perfectly honest — the first time I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, I disliked it intensely. It seemed pointless in its grainy artiness and a classic case of weird-for-weird’s sake. Until I got to the end of it while watching it for this review, I wasn’t even quite certain I’d watched the whole thing on my first encounter (I had). So what’s changed between then and now that I no longer dislike it? The rest of Aronofsky’s work is what di it. Seeing him apply the same approach and evidence the same sensibility in works that were less impenetrable gave me a fresh perspective on Pi. I’m still not sure how seriously to take the film, but then I’m not sure how seriously Aronofsky intends the viewer to take it. This is, after all, a movie in which militant Hassidic Kabbalists are out to get the main character, Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) for their own ends involving the secret name of God — assuming, of course, that they exist outside the realm of the man’s mind.
As stated in the lead-in, Pi is something of a mish-mash of Luis Bunuel, Salvaor Dali, David Lynch and David Cronenberg. (In fact, the business of Maximillian deciding to drill a hole in his head is straight out of Cronenberg’s 1981 film Scanners.) The loose story follows his journey into madness — hence the question of how real some of the other characters are. The film’s line — if there is one — between threat and paranoia is very thin. The whole thing centers on Maximillian’s belief that numbers are the language of the universe, that everything can be understood through numbers, and that there are mathematical patterns to everything. This idea could lead to something as mundane (but lucrative) as predicting the stock market (there’s a high-powered analyst firm after him, too), or as grandiose as learning the secret name of God. How you’ll take to the film is something of a crapshoot, but it’s worth the attempt.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Pi Friday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com